By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 4, 2010
Emergency shelter and food top the needs of Haitians as the country digs out from its devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
Recovery from the disaster is expected to take close to a decade as world leaders discuss rebuilding the ravaged country.
Volunteers from Atlanta and development experts have switched focus from emergency assistance aid to sustaining the homeless and tentative steps toward rebuilding after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
“We hope that there will be a sustained response. The nation is ruined. The Catholic Church down there is gutted. This is going to be a huge, huge rebuilding effort. We have to keep talking about it,” said Mark Coughlin, a leader at St. Monica Church’s Haiti outreach.
Catholics in North Georgia dug deep into their pockets for a special fundraiser as part of a nationwide response by the church.
“With only a portion of the parishes reporting their collections for Haiti, over $750,000 has been raised for the effort. We expect this figure to rise when all parishes report in,” said Brad Wilson, chief financial officer for the archdiocese.
The money was counted by an e-mail survey with 63 parishes reporting. Parishes were asked to send the funds directly to Catholic Relief Services to ensure the dollars could get into the hands of the aid agency quickly.
In addition, some $21,000 was reported from donations at four archdiocesan schools and more money is expected, according to Diane Starkovich, the superintendent of Catholic schools.
The donations to help Haiti overall have topped some $560 million, the largest contribution for a foreign disaster.
Catholic Relief Services, the relief and development arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, took in $23.8 million in pledges as of Monday, Jan. 25. Approximately $12.4 million was donated online, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy Web site.
That doesn’t include money raised during a special collection in Catholic churches nationwide on Jan. 17 to aid CRS.
Some 200,000 tents are needed to shelter the hundreds of thousands of people who are homeless. The rainy season is approaching and public health leaders are concerned without the shelter—which comes in a package of two tarps, 30 meters of rope, nails, blankets, rubber washers—illness and disease could run rampant.
Delivery of supplies is “ramped up” as food and other essential items are handed out to people by the thousands, said Tom Price, a spokesman for Catholic Relief Services.
“We are determined to make it a better Haiti,” he said.
Many archdiocesan parishes have established relationships with churches and villages in Haiti long before the catastrophe. The natural disaster changed the immediate needs, as rural communities take in an influx of refugees from the cities. But people are committed to helping with the new challenges.
“The long haul was in place before the earthquake. So, the answer is yes, we’re there for the long haul,” said Deacon Steve Beers, who serves at St. George Church in Newnan, which has helped at a rural Haitian community for 18 months. The parish in Haiti is Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaBruyere.
Deacon Beers said a big success with the village was establishing a 3,000-gallon water reservoir. That should be enough to keep the nearby villagers with plenty of safe drinking water, he said.
The new issue is residents returning to villages to escape the death and hardship in cities. But the villages aren’t able to take them all in, he said.
People at St. George Church have stepped up with extra donations for supplies and that is the focus of attention, he said.
“The whole thing becomes infectious. Whenever there is a need, I am finding more help is available,” he said.
“The help is continuing to come in,” he said.
St. George was one of five parishes to pitch in on raising a container-load of canned meat, fish, milk and bottled water to be sent to Missionaries of the Poor in Cap Haitien, Haiti. The other parishes taking part are St. Peter Chanel, St. Thomas Aquinas, Corpus Christi and St. Benedict, said Jane Rodgers of the Atlanta-based U.S. office of Missionaries of the Poor.
The parishes packed it up Jan. 31 and Food for the Poor is shipping it free to Haiti, she said. They are starting on a second container and hope to ship it within the week, she added.
“We are going to continue as long as people keep sending money and food,” Rodgers said. “I have been getting calls from all over the country. They are all little donations, but everyone wants to do something.”
The Missionaries of the Poor have opened their doors to people fleeing Port-au-Prince and have also trucked relief supplies to the earthquake area.
St. Monica’s is preparing for a trip to its twinned parish, located some 60 miles from Port-au-Prince, which was already planned before the earthquake.
“We have more and more people wanting to go,” Coughlin said. But the logistics and sleeping accommodations limit the number of volunteers who can go, he said.
Coughlin said about two dozen parishioners are heading down there in February.
In addition, some 300 people are following on Facebook the parish’s immediate relief trip to deliver a truck and supplies to Bassin-Zim.
Four members of the Duluth parish, including a doctor and nurse, went down to Haiti shortly after the natural disaster. They carried 1,000 pounds of water purification equipment and 400 pounds of medical supplies.
During a week there, Coughlin saw a transition occur from efforts to rescue the wounded and assist the dying to recovery, with the building of tent cities that have latrines and drinking water.
“People all over Port-au-Prince have no place to go so a tent city grew up. We visited much worse,” he said.
Coughlin volunteered there shortly after the earthquake. He worked as a Creole translator, helping doctors and patients understand each other.
While there are reports of violence around food aid deliveries, Coughlin said he never saw it. Coughlin said he walked away with greater respect for “(Haitians’) courage, their strength, their civility.”
“The way they helped each other blew us away,” he said.